Bridging the SOA-ITIL gap

Many companies are conducting separate ITIL and SOA efforts in a vacuum, says Jeff Kaplan

Two of today's most popular acronyms in the alphabet soup of the IT industry are ITIL and SOA. The IT Infrastructure Library has gained attention as a governance framework aimed at helping IT operations people become more productive and effective, while service-oriented architecture has become the guidepost for software developers seeking to make their applications more user-friendly and flexible. Although these two concepts complement each another, many organisations have failed to align their ITIL and SOA initiatives properly.

ITIL and SOA are not new, but they are gaining greater attention as impatience with IT inefficiencies and application inflexibility reaches an all-time high. ITIL provides a time-tested set of straightforward principles for organising an effective IT operations group. It includes structural and policy guidelines, as well as step-by-step procedures to create a more democratic and cost-effective IT governance process to better support an organisation's business objectives. Underlying these elements is the premise that IT should serve the organisation rather than complicate it. SOA was created to achieve similar objectives by providing technical guidelines to help software developers design applications that better serve the overall organisation and individual users.

Despite the common goals and guiding principles of ITIL and SOA, there is a chasm in many organisations between these two efforts. This is because some of the fundamental problems that have produced inefficient IT operations and unresponsive business applications also are conspiring to derail many ITIL and SOA initiatives. The most significant obstacle is the psychological distance and structural barriers between the IT operations and software development teams. At the risk of over-generalising, IT technicians focus on controlling their operating environment, while software developers are preoccupied with creating new application capabilities. A long history of working apart and often at odds has created enough apprehension between these two groups to make it difficult to put aside their differences to achieve a common objective.

This leads to the second obstacle to success. Many organisations have permitted the same structural barriers that got in the way of properly coordinated IT operations and software development in the past to continue even as they have initiated their ITIL and SOA adoption efforts. Rather than use these initiatives to break through organisational silos, many companies are conducting separate ITIL and SOA efforts in a vacuum. Just as two trains gaining speed on parallel tracks will create a tremendous collision when their paths finally cross, many organisations also find that their independent ITIL and SOA initiatives encounter serious setbacks when they finally merge.

The key to success is integrating and aligning your ITIL and SOA initiatives early. Make sure that there is sufficient cross-representation of the IT operations staff and software developers in both efforts. Establish a coordinating committee that ensures the overall goals and specific procedural guidelines of the initiatives are tightly coupled. And build into your ITIL framework and SOA an ongoing communications and reporting mechanism to encourage real collaboration.

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